They are dominant high school players, bigger, stronger and faster than the competition.
They get pinned with a multitude of stars by recruiting services, but then they arrive on their college campuses and are asked to take a seat for a season to get bigger, stronger and faster still.
It's a bit of a roller-coaster ride for players that redshirt as freshmen, but Kentucky hopes that the payoff will come this season for the 18 players who sat out last season.
"We're going to be very happy as we move forward," UK Coach Mark Stoops said of the redshirt players, who will rejoin the team and compete for starting spots when spring practice begins for the Cats on Saturday morning. "In the long run of your program, it's really going to help you."
From that highly touted 2014 signing class, ranked No. 17 in the nation, UK was able to redshirt 16 players, as well as sophomore wide receivers Alexander Montgomery and Jeff Badet, who sat out last season recovering from injuries.
One of the biggest areas of improvement should come on the Kentucky offensive line, which has redshirted every recruit since the new staff arrived.
"That's going to really help us down the road when those guys get to be fourth- and fifth-year juniors and seniors; we're going to look like a much different offensive line," position coach John Schlarman said.
From 2014, that group includes players like Josh Krok, Nick Richardson, Jarrett LaRubbio and Bunchy Stallings.
"We'll see how it plays out this spring but I'll tell you this: It's going to create more competition, which will make us all better," Schlarman said. He noted how important a redshirt season was for Ramsey Meyers, who started every game at right guard for the Cats last season after sitting for a year.
"They've all made development," Schlarman said. "I'm really excited about every one of those guys from last year."
Krok and Richardson will compete for spots on the edges with LaRubbio and Stallings inside.
"They're going to be exactly what we talked about last year at signing day: long guys who are athletic, physical, nasty, all those things," Schlarman said. "They're a year older, a year more mature and I think they've developed and they're going to contribute for us."
Others pulling off their red shirts to start the season on offense include tight end Darryl Long and wide receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass.
"They've done nothing but get stronger and get smarter," assistant coach Tommy Mainord said of his wide receivers. "This spring is a great opportunity for them."
Kentucky's wide receivers will start to look like Southeastern Conference wide receivers, Mainord said.
"We're finally at that next step now where we can build," he said. "We lost two seniors and we're going to need some guys to play. We're getting our ducks lined up to where we're starting to build some really quality depth. ... Where we're at is exciting."
On defense, UK was able to redshirt three of its four defensive back signees from 2014, which secondary coach Derrick Ansley said "is going to pay dividends this spring" when Jared Tucker, Darius West and Mike Edwards join the fray.
Kentucky also was able to redshirt linebacker signees like Kobie Walker, Dorian Hendrix and Nico Firios as well as hybrid-style players like Denzil Ware, whom Stoops was high on.
He "can really help us and hopefully be the body type and explosive like Bud (Dupree) was," Stoops said. "Obviously, he won't be as seasoned as Bud, but a very talented guy."
High Performance changes
Just because football talk goes a little quiet in the offseason doesn't mean the Kentucky weight room does.
The UK strength and conditioning staff has been doing behind-the-scenes work to add another layer to Kentucky's High Performance Program, coordinator Erik Korem said.
Some extras include creating full performance profiles on each player to identify weak points and strengths.
"Now we can show a guy if he's above average for his position group or below average for his position group and things like that," Korem said.
For the more power-based positions like linemen, the program specifically looks at elements like bench press, squat, power-clean, vertical jump, explosive throws and body composition. For skill positions, the staff is mapping a players' triple broad jump, vertical leaps and extended sprint distances among other things.
"We try to create these profiles at each position and figure out what is important to us at each position and then try to give them guided feedback," Korem said.
Korem has seen some pretty dramatic increases since the staff came to campus. For instance, UK had just nine players that could jump higher than 30 inches in the first round of testing. By the summer, that number had increased to 32. By the start of last season, it was 50 players.
There have been good trends in nearly every category.
"Our sports science guys have looked at verticals, broad jump, triple broad jump, peak vertical power — and all of those have gone up considerably," Korem said. "Certain groups have gone up 400 percent."
They've also instituted what Korem called "group-oriented exercise" this offseason, which means the players are working in close-knit groups to push each other harder.
"Guys are having to hold each other accountable," he said. "They have opportunities to call each other out. ... It's been really neat to see guys getting around each other. It's more of the environment we want."
The players in the weight room are getting much closer to passing the Southeastern Conference "eye test," UK recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow said.
"The offensive line and the D-line look like SEC players," he said. "When you look at our guys and walk past, our DBs look like SEC players. So from the first year to now, it's been a big improvement. And like Coach Stoops said, we're getting there. We're starting to get guys that look like SEC players."
Heard's NFL decision
Running backs coach Chad Scott would have loved another season with Braylon Heard, but the junior transfer from Nebraska surprised many by opting out of what would have been his senior season at UK to try and find a place in the NFL.
Another season at UK and with the strength and conditioning staff might've helped Heard, who put up middle-of-the-pack numbers in most workouts at the NFL Combine a couple of weeks ago.
But Scott said Heard's decision wasn't about just football.
"It was more to do with his personal life than football," Scott said. "In his mind, he's been in school for four years. If he didn't redshirt, he'd be graduating and go to the NFL.
"It was mostly personal why he decided to go in. For those reasons, I support him 100 percent. If it was all football related, I'd convince him to come back. But it's personal things and I wouldn't want to come in between him and those."
Heard finished 21st among Combine running backs in the 40-yard dash with a 4.63 and he tied for ninth in bench press with 19. He was on the low end of the spectrum in vertical leap with 30 inches, which was 12.5 less than the leader in that group, Ameer Abdullah, his former teammate at Nebraska.
The UK player finished 17th or lower in broad jump, the 20-yard shuffle and the 60-yard shuffle.
NFL.com media draft analyst Lance Zierlein noted that the lack of college carries (just 150) is a weakness and that Heard is "limited by his size and strength and needs the open space to reach potential."
Zierlein noted that in the right scheme Heard, who rushed 73 times for 368 yards and four touchdowns (two in the season opener) in his one season at Kentucky, could excel.
If he'd stayed at Kentucky, Heard probably would've been battling for playing time with a crowded backfield that includes Stanley "Boom" Williams, Jojo Kemp, Mikel Horton and true freshman Sihiem King.